Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Cobus Du Toit, Ginger Hedrick, Hsing-ay Hsu, Jerome Flegg, Kaori Uno, Kellen Toohey, Kent Hurd, Kim Brody, Max Soto
I have attended three or four concerts this concert season where the musicians involved in the performance truly seemed totally energized and excited by the music they were going to perform. Such was the case Saturday evening, May 11th, with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Bahman Saless. They performed an all-Beethoven program at the Broomfield Auditorium in front of a full house.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra opened the program with the overture to Beethoven’s only ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus. A result of an association with the choreographer Salvatore Viganò in 1800, it was first performed on March 28, 1801. At the time, it was quite popular, and received twelve performances, but even so, it was eventually criticized as being far too serious for a ballet. This work carries the number Opus 43, which is quite challenging, because it indicates that the work was written quite a bit later than it actually was. We know, for example, that there was a piano arrangement of the score published as Opus 24. It was the publisher, Hoffmeister, who published the score of the overture under the incorrect number Opus 43, which, of course, leads one to believe an incorrect composition date. Beethoven also used the theme from the ballet in his Twelve Contradanses (without opus number), the Variations and Fugue for Piano, Opus 35, and the connection for Saturday evening’s performance, as a major theme in the last movement of his Symphony Nr. 3.
This Beethoven overture is a relatively short work, but it is quite an exciting one, and was well-chosen to begin this program. The work opens with forte chords separated by a considerable space between them. The attacks on each of the chords were perfect, followed by lyrical sections of the full orchestra with the weight of the melodic line carried by the woodwinds. This short introduction is then followed by the theme of the opening chords with an underlayment of sixteenth notes in the strings. This is a very exciting piece of music, and it only works if there is true precision from the violins. That precision was in abundance throughout the whole concert Saturday evening. That sounds like a very obvious thing to say, especially considering the fact that these are all professional musicians, but I assure you there was a very special “edge” to the performance on Saturday. It was full of tension and excitement. The other aspect that I noticed about the performance was that all of the musicians on stage were not only watching Maestro Saless, they were very carefully watching each other. The sforzandos (a marked and sudden emphasis) were as perfectly together as the entrances, and that comes from eye contact with each other, as well as the conductor. Beethoven’s ballet, The Creatures of Prometheus, has fallen by the wayside as far as its popularity is concerned. That, in my opinion, has led many conductors to treat the overture to the ballet as a “filler” piece of music, to be used only when a short work is needed for the program. It was great to hear Maestro Bahman Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra treat it like the genuine piece of music, which it is.
Following the Beethoven overture, Boulder (and world) pianist Hsing-ay Hsu joined the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in the performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Nr. 5 in E Flat Major, Opus 73, known as the “Emperor.”
Surely, everyone in Colorado must, by now, know who Hsing-ay Hsu is; however, I will quote from her bio statement which is on the web:
“Since making her stage debut at age 4, Chinese pianist Hsing-ay Hsu (“Sing-I Shoo”) has performed at such notable venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center, and abroad in Asia and Europe.
“Upon entering her freshman year at Juilliard, she won the William Kapell International Piano Competition silver medal. Hsu was also winner of the Ima Hogg National Competition First Prize, the prestigious Juilliard William Petschek Recital Award, a McCrane Foundation Artist Grant, a Paul & Daisy Soros Graduate Fellowship Award, and a Gilmore Young Artist Award. She was also named a US Presidential Scholar of the Arts by President Clinton at the White House.
“A versatile concerto soloist performing Bach to Barber, she is described by the Washington Post as full of ‘power, authority, and self-assurance.’ Concerto collaborations include the Houston Symphony Orchestra as first-prize winner of the 2003 Ima Hogg National Competition, the Baltimore Symphony, the Colorado Symphony, Pacific Symphony (CA), Colorado Springs, Florida West Coast, Fort Collins, New Jersey, Waterbury (CT), China National, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Xiamen orchestras. Television and radio feature broadcasts include Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion Live from Tanglewood (for a 10,000+ live audience members and 3.9 million broadcast audience), NPR’s Performance Today with Martin Goldsmith, TCI cablevision’s Grand Piano Recital (CA), CPR’s Colorado Spotlight, China Central National TV, Hong Kong Phoenix TV, and Danish National Radio. She has recorded CD/DVD’s for Pacific Records, Albany Records, and Nutmeg Press labels.
“An advocate of new music, she has given numerous world premieres including Ezra Laderman’s Piano Sonata No. and Beshert; Ned Rorem’s Aftermath (2002) for baritone and piano trio; Daniel Kellogg’s scarlet thread at the Guggenheim Museum in New York and his Momentum, which she commissioned for the 1998 Gilmore International Keyboard Festival; as well as Du MingXin’s Piano Concerto No.3 at the Gulangyu International Piano Festival and National Tour. Chamber music appearances include Carnegie Weill Hall, Bargemusic in New York, the Aspen Music Festival, Tanglewood, the Great Lakes Chamber Music Festival, the Gardner Museum in Boston, the Detroit Art Museum, Denmark’s Viborg Hall, Taiwan’s Novel Hall, and a 2007 all-stars gala in Hong Kong for the 10th anniversary of the reunification. Recent projects include the ongoing multi-media recital China through the Lens of Piano Music, co-directing/performing in the George Crumb at 80 Music Festival, and producing/performing the Olivier Messiaen Centennial series.”
I suppose that it is not without reason that Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto is nicknamed the “Emperor,” though I hasten to point out that nickname did not come from Beethoven. The name arises from the fact that it is a very forceful piece, akin to the “Eroica” Symphony Nr.3, also in E Flat Major (and also performed at Saturday’s concert). Beethoven, perhaps, more than any other composer, has had so much written about him which is full of nonsense by the early romantically-inclined critics, that today, one must realize that listening to a single page of his music is far more instructive than reading a hundred pages of the early literary effusion. The Fifth Piano Concerto is full of sharp forte-piano shadings, and incredible bravura eruptions, but the second movement also contains some of the most idyllic writing to come from Beethoven.
As stated above in her biography, Hsing-ay Hsu takes charge of the piano the moment she sits down. Her playing is full of confidence, and why shouldn’t it be? Consider all of her awards and concert experience. However, she also exudes true musicianship, and understanding of the composer that she is playing. I also hasten to interrupt myself here, to explain that Maestro Saless, in speaking to the audience, clarified that all of works on Saturday’s concert were going to be taken at tempos that were consistent with those of Beethoven’s era. They were faster than the tempos of today. As Hsing-ay Hsu began to play, it was clear that she was comfortable, and in full agreement with the tempos that were no doubt discussed with Maestro Bahman Saless. Her arpeggios ascending the keyboard from the opening chords of the introduction were crystal clear because of her very careful pedal use. She certainly used less pedal on the ascending arpeggios and the accompanying trills at the top than, for example, Claudio Arrau. Yet, it was wonderfully musical. I was also immediately struck with the impression that she was enjoying the Sauter piano because of its clarity of tone, though there were spots in certain registers of the keyboard that seemed a little out of tune, unlike other performances that I have heard on this particular piano. Her playing is so clean that it boggles the mind, and she has such power that it seems there is no chance that the orchestra could cover her. Her playing in the second movement was positively ethereal and dream-like. And, indeed, it is one of Beethoven’s most expressive statements in his entire output. I have often stated that it is sometimes more difficult to play slowly, concentrating on tone production and dynamic shadings, then it is to play fast and loud. Hsing-ay Hsu allowed the second movement to radiate emotion without being overly sentimental, and never once did she leave Beethoven’s style behind. The second movement has a slow transition which gets faster as it progresses, and the third movement of the concerto begins attacca (begin what follows without pausing). The tempo of the third movement was very quick indeed, but Hsing-ay Hsu filled it with the jubilance that I have not heard for some time. Once again, the members of the orchestra were watching each other carefully. The violins and cellos, which could easily see the piano keyboard, were also keeping a sharp eye on Ms. Hsu. It was a perfect example of an orchestra determined to allow the soloist and the conductor to lead them in this piece and offer both individuals all the support they could muster. It was clear that the members of this orchestra truly enjoyed playing with Hsing-ay Hsu because she is such an incredibly reliable musician.
Allow me to explain precisely what I mean by reliable. It means that the soloist not only knows where every note and rest and dynamic marking is, but is able to communicate that with eye contact and gestures with the conductor. In the third movement of this concerto, Ms. Hsu had a miniscule memory slip, and came in a beat late. This is not an extreme criticism by any stretch: it is part of the price of admission of being a soloist. I am confident that no one in the audience spotted this slip because I doubt that anyone in the audience knows the score well enough to spot such a small error, but it did result in an amused smile from Hsing-ay Hsu. Her reliability as a performing musician allowed her great confidence to keep going as if nothing had happened without losing a secondary beat, and it also gave Maestro Saless the confidence to know that she was going to continue without a stumble. She knew the piece so well that her tempo never changed, her eyes never got wide with shock, and she never lost her breath. That is mental and musical reliability, and total knowledge of the work at hand. It is the mark of experience, which is something that is difficult for the audience to understand unless they do it themselves in their own field of endeavor. Hsing-ay Hsu gave a wonderfully exciting performance of this very difficult piece, and her artistry and musical excellence were in a sphere obtained by only a few.
Following Hsing-ay Hsu’s remarkable performance, Maestro Saless and the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed Beethoven’s revolutionary Symphony Nr. 3 in E flat Major, Opus 55. Note that I used the word “revolutionary.” In truth, all of Beethoven’s symphonies are revolutionary, because he did so many things other composers would not do, as in his first symphony (which is in C major). He starts on the wrong chord, travels through a minor, then F major, and at the beginning of the exposition section, finally settles in C major. Just that aspect startled critics of the day. Of course, being a revolutionary meant that his thinking was in advance of his contemporaries, and that he was misunderstood because his contemporaries refused to look forward. It was due only to later generations to award Beethoven their honor with their enlightenment.
This Third Symphony is so well-known that it really needs no movement by movement explanation. But I must point out that in the first movement the entire cello section was absolutely marvelous. In the second movement the oboes, Max Soto and Kimberly Brody excelled, as did Cobus du Toit and Ginger Hedrick, flute. In fact, the entire woodwind section including Jerome Fleg and Kellen Toohey, clarinet; and Kent Hurd and Kaori Uno, bassoon, were all exceptional. I have never heard the horn section of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra play as well as they did in this Third Symphony. As I said in the opening paragraph of this article, this was a wonderful concert by everyone on stage. It clearly was the best performance I have ever heard the Boulder Chamber Orchestra give. Everyone on stage, guided by Maestro Bahman Saless, had a knowledge of Beethoven that allowed them to present Beethoven in his purist sense. What more could one ask for?
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Aldo Ragone, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Devon Park, Franz Liszt, Ginger Hedrick, Jerome Fleg, Kaori Uno, Lutwig Thuille, Max Soto
Wednesday, November 28, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra invited Italian pianist, Aldo Ragone, to perform at the First Congregational Church of Boulder. He will also perform at the Opus Two Concert Hall in Lafayette at 9167 Davidson Way. That performance starts at 7 PM on November 30th , and is a fundraising event, complete with a meal and wine in addition to the incredible artistry of Aldo Ragone. Seating is strictly limited, and it would be strongly advised for you to contact the Boulder Chamber Orchestra at 303-583-1278 to see if seats are still available.
Dr. Ragone is an old friend of Denver’s, as he has performed here often: he received his artist diploma from the Lamont School of Music, and he taught at Regis University for two years, before returning to his native Italy. He has a remarkable reputation all over Europe, and he has performed throughout the United States. I will quote from his bio statement:
“Aldo Ragone has delighted audiences in such Italian cities as Rome, Venice, Genoa, Turin, Naples, Bari, Lecce, Siena, and many others, performing for music associations, such as Fondazione Giorgio Cini of Venice, Museum of Musical Instruments and La Scaletta Theatre of Rome, Il Coretto of Bari, Aragonese Castle of Otranto, the Conservatory of Music Tito Schipa of Lecce, Thalberg Hall and Aldo Ciccolini Hall of Naples, Carlo Felice Theatre of Genoa, Vespasiano Theatre in Rieti, in Music at Piazza Colonna in Rome, and Rassegna di Musica Contemporanea (Contemporary Music Review) in the Theatre of Latina. In a highlight of his performing career in Italy, Mr. Ragone performed the Second Piano Concerto of Sergei Rachmaninov at the Alfonso Rendano Theatre of Cosenza, which was broadcast on the Italian national television channel, Cinque Stelle.
“In 2003, Aldo Ragone made his debut at the prestigious Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., in the U.S.A. Subsequently, he has been a recitalist at the Gildenhorn Recital Hall of the Clarice Smith Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Maryland, College Park; in Washington, D.C., at the historic Dacor-Bacon House, the Brazilian-American Cultural Institute and the Washington Arts Club; in Washington’s metropolitan area, at the Italian Cultural Society and the Strathmore Hall Mansion; in Virginia, at the Lyceum, the Fairfax Town Hall Series and the Rappahannock Music Series; in Baltimore at the Old St. Paul Church Music; in Maryland in the Sanford Concert Series. In Colorado, he has performed to acclaim in Hamilton Hall and in Gates Hall in the Newman Center for the Arts at The University of Denver and at Regis University in Denver. Still in Colorado, he played Saint-Saëns Piano Concerto Nr. 5 with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra in the King Center Concert Hall of Denver, and the rarely performed Scriabin Piano Concerto with the Niwot Timberline Symphony.
“His international appearances include the Sommerclassics Musik Festival at Saffig, Germany, the performance of Bach Concerto BWV 1052 in d minor with the Petrassi Youth Chamber Orchestra at Zagarolo, Italy, the Bloomsbury International Recital Series in London, UK, in Italy, the Festival Internazionale di Mezza Estate at Tagliacozzo, the International Music Festival Beethoven at Sutri, the prestigious Festival Pontino, the Tuscia Opera Festival, and the review Roma Musica Estate. Recently, he completed a tour in the U.S.A. with recitals, masterclasses, and the performance of Rachmaninov Second Piano Concert with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. During this tour, Colorado Public Radio aired a program with some of his performances and an interview. Furthermore, KPOF Radio of Denver aired his performance of Rachmaninov Second Concerto with the Denver Philharmonic.
“In 2009 and 2010, the government of the United States of America awarded him a visa for extraordinary ability in the field of music. From 2007 to 2009 Aldo Ragone taught piano at Regis University in Denver, Colorado.”
Dr. Ragone is known for his eclectic programming, and the concert Wednesday evening was certainly no exception, for he introduced us to a fine but lesser-known composer, Ludwig Thuille, an Austrian composer, whose dates are 1861 to 1907. It is easy to see, from those dates, that he is (or should be) a crossover composer between the Impressionist period and the Expressionist period. However, he seems to lean more to the style of Brahms than he does to the hypertrophied romanticism of Mahler, or even Richard Strauss who was a close friend. When he was 15, he enrolled in the Innsbruck School of Music where he studied with Joseph Pembauer. After he completed his courses at Innsbruck, he returned to Munich and studied organ and composition with Joseph Rheinberger. He eventually gained a professorship at the Munich School. He was a well-respected composer, and truthfully, quite prolific, composing operas, chamber music, and symphonies.
Aldo Ragone chose to perform Ludwig Thuille’s (pronounced Twee-lay) Sextet for Piano and Winds, Opus 6. Joining him in the performance were Ginger Hedrick, flute; Max Soto, oboe; Devon Park, French horn; Jerome Fleg, clarinet; and Kaori Uno, bassoon.
I have never heard this work, and I am always amazed at composers who are unfamiliar to the majority of concert audiences, who have produced such startlingly fine and well-crafted music. Certainly, this piece, especially the first movement, could have been Brahms; the second movement showed influence of Cesar Franck and Gabriel Fauré; the third movement could have come from a Parisian operetta; and in the fourth movement, it became obvious that Thuille has his own voice.
The minute Ragone began to play, it was apparent that he needed a better piano. He was performing on the church piano (church pianos are notorious because they’re often not well maintained), which was a six-foot grand. He should have had a seven-foot grand, because the key length from the end of the key that one can see, to the end that goes inside the piano is the same length as on a 9 foot concert grand. Therefore, it is easier to control, and, concert artists usually perform on a seven or a nine foot instrument. In addition, one could see by looking at the keyboard, that the keys were not level with one another, and that indicates that the piano should have been regulated. However, most urgently, the piano needed to be voiced and properly tuned as it went out of tune as the concert progressed. These deficiencies made it difficult for Dr. Ragone to control the sound that he wanted. All the difficulties aside, it was refreshing to hear this fine pianist play after being denied the privilege for almost two years here in the USA. Ragone has the technical ability to control every single note no matter the difficulty or speed of the finger work: it is always clear and delineated with dynamic contrast. The second movement was positively serene, and Devon Park, French horn, and Jerome Flagg, clarinet, performed their solos beautifully. All of the musicians in this sextet are extremely accomplished performing artists, and I was pleasantly surprised at their ensemble and camaraderie, particularly given the fact they had limited rehearsal time together because Dr. Ragone had just arrived from Rome. Musicianship and experience show.
The third movement of this work had a very light-hearted character: almost an opera buffa, except that it had a distinct French sound. Truly, that is what made this entire work so exceptional, it sounded French, but Ludwig Thuille is Austrian, and certainly seems more influenced by French Impressionism than German Romanticism. That should be a lesson for music history students: listen carefully for style and “voice.”
Following the intermission, Aldo Ragone performed the Liszt transcription of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was common practice in the early 1800s for composers to transcribe another composer’s symphony for keyboard. Often, it was done because the composer admired a given work, but, in addition, composers also discovered that it was a good way to learn, and to see precisely what the other composer had done, and to become closer to the work. The motivation for Liszt to transcribe the symphonies came from his publisher, Breitkopf and Härtel, and he eventually transcribed all nine of Beethoven’s symphonies for piano. It is unfortunate that they are not performed more often. One does have to recognize, in the case of Franz Liszt, that he was simply the greatest pianist in the history of keyboard music, and he maintains that position today. The reason for that is that he not only had unmatched technical ability, he was also possessed of a very progressive musical imagination, and unfailing musicianship. It is, in some ways, unfortunate that his remarkable instinct for showmanship has occasionally overshadowed his legendary ability to compose. His transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies, as were all of his compositions, written for himself, and that is one of the important reasons they are not performed often, because they are so incredibly difficult. In addition, there are pianists today who do have the technical ability to play these pieces, but some of them use the transcriptions for impressing an audience without realizing that they must impress with musicianship as well. Dr. Aldo Ragone understands that both are necessary, and he has the ability to carry through.
His performance of the Liszt of Beethoven’s Symphony Nr. 5 was outstanding. If one knows this particular Beethoven Symphony truly well, it is a stunning experience to listen to Liszt’s piano transcription simply because he did not leave anything of Beethoven’s out of the transcription. He didn’t need to, because he could play it all. And, I hasten to point out that he would not have dared to leave anything out because he admired Beethoven so much, and he did not set out to write a transcription for lesser pianists: remember: as I said above, he wrote these for himself.
Dr. Ragone brought out all of the counterpoint and all of the secondary themes with wonderful clarity. He was also extremely sensitive to the way Liszt voiced different themes, depending on which instrument Beethoven used in his original score. He followed the dynamics scrupulously, as did Liszt, and as a result, one was reminded instantly of the same original instrument. Several years ago, I reviewed a concert given by Aldo Ragone and I characterized his keyboard technique as “ferocious.” That word still fits, and I would add that his musicianship is simply sublime.
I am absolutely delighted that I will have a second chance to hear this concert on Friday evening at the Opus Two Concert Hall. How wonderful it would be if Aldo Ragone would give a concert (it would have to be more than one!) to perform all nine of Liszt transcriptions of the Beethoven symphonies. Hearing them played on the piano does offer a new perspective, especially when it is done so well. I am confident that both Liszt and Beethoven would be pleased.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Albinoni, Bach, Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Brian Robins, Cobus Du Toit, Max Soto, Rameau, Remo Giazotto, Torelli
Maestro Bahman Saless of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra added a very nice touch to the season’s concert series by giving each concert a specific title and performing specific composers. On the Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s website, Saless states that: “An artist’s quest to achieve mastery of his or her art is an incredible journey filled with excitement, frustration, hope, despair, and unending challenge. This season’s selection of pieces could readily be packaged in such a way as to portray the stages that artists—indeed all who aspire to master their domain—pass through in their lifetime. Thus, we have titled our season “Road to Mastery”!
So it was that Saturday night, December 17, was the third concert of their season. This particular concert was entitled “Festivity,” and the BCO presented four works from the Baroque period by the composers Rameau, Albinoni, Torelli, and Bach.
The first work on the program was the Orchestral Suite in G minor by Rameau. This French composer was one of the multifaceted musicians of his day. Like Bach in Germany, Rameau was the greatest organist in France. He was a prodigious composer of operas and ballets as well as works for harpsichord, which were primarily written early in his life. He was the most important musical theorist since Gioseffo Zarlino (whose four volume treatise, Istitutioni harmoniche, of 1558, codifies major and minor tonality), and even today, doctoral students are kept quite busy pouring over his theoretical writings.
The Orchestral Suite in G minor is truly an arrangement by the German violinist, conductor, and founder of the Mainz Chamber Orchestra, Gunter Kehr. While this may seem like heresy to any of you readers who are purists, please understand that this was a fairly common practice in the Baroque period, and it was J.S. Bach, among others to practice this on a fairly regular basis, particularly with his own works. As I have said before, the term is self-plagiarism. Granted, the late Gunter Kehr (1920-1989) was not a Baroque composer, but nonetheless there is ample justification for his arrangement of this keyboard work.
As the members of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra entered the stage, I noticed that there were several regular members who weren’t there Saturday evening. Though I do not know for sure, I suspect that many of them were involved with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, as I think both orchestras share members. At any rate, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed the Rameau beautifully. In the first movement there were some trills in the strings, which were exceedingly well done (trills on any stringed instrument always seem difficult to me). The fourth movement of this work had a great deal of ornamentation, but the strings were very nicely together throughout and the terrace dynamics were extremely precise.
The second work on the program was the Oboe Concerto in D minor, Opus 9, Nr. 2. There is substantial mystery surrounding this piece; however, it’s quite possible that the mystery is close to being solved. The mystery concerns Tomaso Albinoni’s authorship of this work. As per the Saturday night’s program notes, Italian musicologist Remo Giazotto, an Albinoni scholar, said that he reconstructed this concerto from a small fragment of the slow movement that he supposedly found in the Saxon State Library after the bombing raids of World War II in Dresden. There is evidence that the adagio may be Giazotto’s composition, even though the fragment that he says he discovered has never been found. According to the research done by Brian Robins, who is a musicologist, we know that, in 1722, a set of concertos labeled Opus 9 were published in Amsterdam by Le Cène. They were published in three separate groups of four each. Number two has a solo part for oboe, and that work contains an Adagio, which bears the unmistakable style of Albinoni. In addition, descriptions by Albinoni contemporaries give evidence to the published Opus 9 concertos of the same powerful lyric and incredibly lush sounds that are typical of Albinoni.
I suppose we will have to wait for a definitive answer after more doctoral students have examined this problem. But, there is absolutely no doubt about the beauty of this remarkable composition and its beautiful performance Saturday night by Max Soto.
Quoting from Max Soto’s biographical statement that I found on the web:
“Max began his musical education with the Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil de Costa Rica which allowed him to study with Principal Oboist Jorge Rodriguez and helped to cultivate a passion for Classical Music and the Oboe. Max arrived in the USA in 1996 at the Loyola University of New Orleans and received his Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance. Max began his professional career performing a season with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra as Assistant Principal Oboist. Max moved to Denver in 2002 in order to pursue his Masters Degree in Music Performance. He attended the Lamont School of Music at Denver University and graduated in 2004. Max went on a whirlwind tour of the United States and Canada performing The Pirates of Penzance with the London based Carl Rosa Opera Company in 2007. He has performed with the Colorado Ballet, Fort Collins Symphony, Steamboat Springs Orchestra, Emerald City Opera, and Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra and appears at various music festivals with small ensembles all over the state of Colorado. In addition to playing with the Boulder Philharmonic, Max also appears as Assistant Principal Oboist of the Greeley Philharmonic Orchestra and Principal Oboist for the Musica Sacra Chamber Orchestra.”
I add to the above file statement that Max Soto is the principal oboe for the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.
Right away, the oboist is put on his mettle, because this work requires incredible breath control and support. The opening movement of this three movement work is a fairly standard allegro, but if one compares it to Vivaldi, it doesn’t have quite the same forward motion. It is still a wonderful piece, and is very transparent because of its orchestration solely for strings, continuo, and, of course, the oboe. It is the second movement that is one of the most beautiful compositions ever written for oboe. And it is this movement where I was absolutely astonished at Max Soto’s breathing ability. Make no mistake: Albinoni wrote some incredibly long melodic lines for a Baroque composer. The melodic lines in this Adagio movement are long enough that I sat on the edge of my seat wondering if Soto was going to get to the end of the phrase, but he always did, and his tone never wavered or faltered. This certainly has to be one of the most difficult works for any oboe player but it was so beautifully done, and so skillfully done, that Soto, if one wasn’t looking, seemed to just “play it,” without working hard all. And, of course, Maestro Saless was clearly enjoying himself, and his conducting skills come to him just as naturally as Soto’s breathing.
After the intermission, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed a work by Giuseppe Torelli (1658 – 1709). This work, the Concerto Grosso, Op.8, Nr. 6, otherwise known as the Christmas Concerto, is the sixth concerto of a set of twelve which were published in 1709. It is a short piece, but nonetheless delightful, and is called a “Christmas Concerto” because one of the sections is a pastorale. This is a one movement piece in four sections, Grave – Vivace (Pastorale) – Largo – Vivace. The orchestra sounded absolutely superb, and I am always enormously pleased to hear this chamber orchestra perform because they play with so much love for what they do.
Following the fairly short Torelli work, was the famous Bach Orchestral Suite Nr. 2 in B minor, featuring Cobus du Toit, Principal Flute in the Boulder Chamber Orchestra. This orchestral suite is scored for flute strings and continuo, and it is possible that it was written for Pierre-Gabriel Buffardin, who was the Principal Flute in the Dresden Court Orchestra. There is no question that he knew Bach, who was 30 years older. As Maestro Saless pointed out, many people consider this orchestral suite a concerto because the flute is featured so prominently. However, if it were a concerto, the flute would not simply double the violins, as it does, and would have its own separate themes in an exchange with the orchestra. There are moments, particularly in the last movement of the famous Badinerie, where the flute is featured, but that is because Bach chose to allow the flautist to show off a little.
The contrast between the Bach piece in the Torelli was remarkable. The first movement is an overture, as is the first movement of all three orchestral suites, but following the Torelli the Bach seemed quite formal, though it certainly is graceful as well. The second movement, a Rondeau, is in reality, a fugue. The following sarabande certainly has a measured step so that the bourée seems almost rowdy. Keep in mind that all these names are names of dances from the Baroque period that worked their way into the suites of music, not only for orchestral suites, but also keyboard suites as well. And they were used by most Baroque composers as well as Bach.
But, of course, the movement that I was waiting for was the Badinerie (of which, in French, means flirtation). Cobus du Toit is an absolutely astounding flautist. I have heard him several times, and he never ceases to amaze me. I wrote about him two years ago, December 20, 2009. I encourage you to read that review. All you have to do is to go to the left-hand column of this page and click on December 2009, and that will take you to the review of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.
In this performance, I was again amazed at the ease with which Cobus du Toit plays. It is always musical, his tone is always superb, and his breath control is amazing. In addition, he played some ornaments in this movement that I have not heard any other flautist play. Being familiar with du Toit’s abilities, I am sure that they were authentic, but I must say they sounded incredibly difficult. He is such a fine flute player and the grace with which he exhibited playing the accented appoggiaturas was something to behold. They are not terribly difficult, but they were perfect, and the kind of perfection he exhibits when he plays Bach or anything else, is never pedantic, but it is always beautiful.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra performed an encore at the end of the program. It had to be one of the most gorgeous performances of Silent Night, Holy Night, that I have ever heard. Cobus du Toit and Max Soto join together, and each proceeded down the aisles from the rear of the church, Soto playing oboe, and du Toit playing the flute. Du Toit performed an improvisation above the familiar melodic line, while Soto doubled the strings of the orchestra. It brought the audience to their feet, and I saw several in the audience wiping their eyes.
I have always been impressed by the Boulder Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Bahman Saless. They never disappoint, and they always surprise. It is quite something to see the joy that the orchestra members take in each other’s playing. The applause by the orchestra given to Soto and du Toit was clearly heartfelt.
The applause from the audience was exultant as well.
Filed under: News | Tags: Albinoni, Ars Nova Singers, Bach, Bahman Saless, Beethoven, Biber, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Claire Huangci, Cobus Du Toit, Diamond, Hummel, John King, Lindsay Deutsch, Max Soto, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Prokofiev, Rameau, Rossini, Saint-Saens, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, Thomas Edward Morgan, Torelli
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra and Maestro Bahman Saless have announced their new concert season for 2011-2012. Each concert has its own title which reflects the general spirit of the compositions performed for that particular concert.
“Liberation” – September 30th & October 1st, 2011
Mozart Abduction from the Seraglio, Overture
Mendelssohn Violin Concerto, Lindsay Deutsch, violin
Beethoven Symphony No. 7
Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder
Concert 2: Montview Boulevard Presbyterian, Denver
“Piety” – October 28th & 29th, 2011
With Ars Nova Singers
1st piece To Be Announced
Concert 1: St. John’s Cathedral, Denver
Concert 2: First United Methodist, Boulder
“Festivity” – December 16th & 17th, 2011
Rameau Suite in G/g (La Poule)
Albinoni Oboe Concerto in d, featuring Max Soto, oboe
Torelli Christmas Concerto
Bach Suite No. 2 in b, featuring Cobus du Toit, flute
Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder
Concert 2: Jefferson Unitarian, Golden
New Year’s Eve Concert – December 31st, 2011
Waltzes and more (still working on details)
Note: This concert will be performed in the Glenn Miller Ballroom, UMC (?)
”Joy” – February 10th & 11th, 2012
Mozart Divertimento, K.136
Diamond Rounds for String Orchestra
Concert 1: Broomfield Auditorium
Concert 2: First Congregational Church, Boulder
“Reverence” – April 13th & 14th, 2012
Saint-Saens Piano Concerto #2, featuring Claire Huangci, piano
Stravinsky Pulcinella Suite
Prokofiev Classical Symphony
Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder
Concert 2: Broomfield Auditorium
“Mastery” – May 11th & 12th, 2012
Rossini L’Italiana in Algeri, Overture
Hummel Trumpet Concerto, featuring John King, trumpet
Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3, Scottish
Concert 1: First Congregational Church, Boulder
Concert 2: Broomfield Auditorium
This is a very good series of programs. The title of the entire season is “Road to Mastery.” And indeed, even though several of the pieces could be included in the last program, which is entitled Mastery, there is a sort of natural progression. And I point out that the titles for each program are quite apt. For example, take a look at the concert entitled Reverence. Here are three works which are truly “revered” because they are absolute masterworks.
Lindsay Deutsch, a young violinist who has taken the United States by storm will be the featured artist for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto on the first program of the season. Ms. Deutch received her Bachelor’s Degree, and continues to study at the Colburn Conservatory of Music, where she studies with Robert Lipsett. She has performed with orchestras throughout the United Statesand Canada, in addition to performing the violin soundtrack for the 2006 movie, The Good Shepherd.
In addition to her many awards and concert credits, she and her sister, Lauren, have co-founded a non-profit organization, Classics Alive (www.ClassicsAlive.org), dedicated to building classical music audiences. I think this is a fantastic idea that more young musicians who are on the concert stage need to become involved with.
Another young American artist will perform with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra this coming season. She is Claire Huangci of Rochester,New York, and she will perform the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto Nr. 2.
Born in 1990, Claire became a student of Eleanor Sokoloff, a piano professor of the Curtis Institute of Music. In 2003, she was formally accepted by the Curtis Institute with a full scholarship from the Hirsig Family Foundation and continued her piano study under Eleanor Sokoloff and Gary Graffman. From there, she went on to win the Philadelphia Orchestra Competition and performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra under the baton of Wolfgang Sawalisch, one of dozens of American orchestras she has appeared with. Several of her performances were aired on music radio stations in 2006 and 2007. In May 2007, Curtis Director Gary Graffman honoured her with the Most Promising Student Award. She is continuing her work with Professor Arie Vardi in Germany at the Hanover Hochschule für Musik as she continues to perform throughoutEurope.
The Boulder Chamber Orchestra’s own Max Soto, principal oboe, will perform Albinoni’s Oboe Concerto in d minor. Max Soto has a Masters Degree in Performance from the Lamont School of Music, and has performed throughout the United States. Max began his musical education with the Orquesta Sinfonica Juvenil de Costa Rica which allowed him to study with Principal Oboist Jorge Rodriguez and helped to cultivate a passion for classical music and the oboe. Max arrived in the USA in 1996 at the Loyola University of New Orleans and received his Bachelor of Arts in Music Performance. Max began his professional career as the Assistant Principal oboist with the New Orleans Symphony Orchestra.
John King, principal trumpet with the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, will perform the Trumpet Concerto by Johann Nepomuk Hummel. Since moving to Coloradoin 2004 John has performed with all major arts organizations including Colorado Symphony and Colorado Ballet. Before moving here he was in the San Francisco Bay area for many years, and during this time he held the position of Second Trumpet in San Jose Symphony and was Principal Trumpet in Californiafor eighteen seasons. In addition, he worked extensively with the San Francisco Symphony including numerous national tours and recordings.
Another amazing musician from the BCO, Cobus du Toit, will perform the Bach Suite Nr. 2 in b. Cobus held the principal position in the National Youth Orchestra of South Africa which toured to Germany for the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. While in Germany, Cobus also performed at noted venues such as the Berlin Philharmonie under conductor Herbert Blomstedt. Other orchestral experience includes the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of South Africa, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, University of Pretoria Symphony Orchestra and the University of Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Certainly, no one will want to miss the October concert. Thomas Edward Morgan and the Ars Nova Singers will perform the Mozart Requiem. I have stated before, and I mean this in all sincerity, that the Ars Nova Singers is one of the best choral groups in the United States. If any of you readers have not heard them, you must come to this performance. The pairing of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra and the Ars Nova Singers will be a performance that you absolutely must hear.
The artists involved, and the difficulty of the programming, are indicative of the quality of this organization. The Boulder Chamber Orchestra continues to set a new standard for itself. Maestro Bahman Saless has established a real criterion for this young organization which was founded in 2004. Their website says that they have become Boulder’s premier chamber orchestra. I truly think that should be changed to read one of the region’s premier chamber orchestras.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adele Mayne, Aniel Cabán, Bahman Saless, Boulder Chamber Orchestra, Cobus Du Toit, Copland, Kent Hurd, Kim Brody, Martinu, Max Soto, Robert Bliss, Rossini, Soulima Stravinsky, Stravinsky
Saturday evening, February 12, I drove up to Broomfield to hear the Boulder Chamber Orchestra do a program of Stravinsky, Martinu, Copland, and Rossini. The Broomfield auditorium is really a perfect place for chamber music of any kind. It seats about 400 people, and the acoustics are quite adequate.
Maestro Bahman Saless, who founded the Boulder Chamber Orchestra in 2004, opened the program with Igor Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto in E Flat Major, known as Dumbarton Oaks. Its nickname, Dumbarton Oaks, comes from the fact that it was commissioned in 1937 by Mr. Robert Woods Bliss and his wife who were totally devoted to the avant-garde arts. Mr. Bliss and his wife had just bought an estate in the Georgetown area of Washington DC, upon his retirement from the diplomatic corps. It is an impressive place with ten acres of gardens and a Federalist style mansion which had been built in 1801. The commission of this work was to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. The Blisses had the mansion renovated extensively before their deaths in the 1960s, and that renovation included a new library for the benefit of scholars, but it was not completed until 2005, after the estate had been given to Harvard University, which was the alma mater of Robert Bliss.
At the time Stravinsky wrote this concerto, he was renewing his acquaintance with, and studying the works of Johann Sebastian Bach, and Stravinsky himself wasn’t quite sure (and this is what was related to me by his son, Soulima Stravinsky at the University of Illinois) that thematic material, which is quite similar to Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto, was an unconscious borrowing of Bach’s theme. Yet, similar it certainly is. And there is no question that it is written in the Baroque concerto grosso style. That is to say the movements are fast, slow, fast. At the time the work was premiered, Stravinsky was recovering from tuberculosis which had claimed the life of his wife and oldest daughter. He was able to reach his friend, Nadia Boulanger, and she premiered the work on May 8, 1938, at Dumbarton Oaks. As a matter of fact, the original score is in the library at Dumbarton Oaks, where it is available to scholars, thus fulfilling Robert Bliss’ desire to fulfill “… a need in this country, we thought, of a quiet place where the advanced students and scholars could withdraw, the one to mellow and develop, the other to write the result of a life’s study.”
To be quite truthful, I was somewhat disappointed in the performance of this work. It seemed to lack the sharpness of Stravinsky’s rhythms and the energy that so characterize the works from his neo-Classical period. And if one wants to make a comparison, and why not, with Bach’s Concerto Grossi, it seemed to lack even the rhythmic drive of even those compositions. It was not until the last movement that I began to hear the rhythmic angularity which brings much of Stravinsky’s works to life, and helps to emphasize the harmony that he used. I have always enjoyed listening to the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, so I was a little disappointed at this almost lackluster performance – and this, in spite of the fact that the flute, clarinet, and bassoon gave stellar performances in all three movements.
During the 1920s, there were so many different styles of music literally being invented by composers, that it is very difficult to decide just which genre the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu belongs to. He began his music career at the Prague Conservatory, but was soon asked to leave because he was considered to be an incorrigible student, because he was interested in too many subjects. He left Prague and went to Paris where he began to flourish, writing ballets, and truthfully, compositions in every genre. When the Germans invaded France he left for the United States and taught and wrote at the Mannes College of Music in New York City, as well as Princeton University. He became an American citizen, but he spent a great deal of time in Europe, and was made Professor of Music at the Prague Conservatory. In my way of thinking, he remains one of the most uncelebrated, but one of the most important composers of the 20th century.
The work of his which was performed Saturday evening is the nonet which was finished in 1959 (its origins come from his stay in Paris before the German invasion) while he was ill with cancer. He died in Switzerland on August 28, a month after its premiere which was July 27, 1959.
Make no mistake about it: the Boulder Chamber Orchestra truly seemed to identify with this marvelous piece. It had energy, dynamism, and they seemed to revel in the fact that this was a very difficult piece. I would also like to point out that this was one of two pieces on the program which they performed without the conductor, Bahman Saless. The instrumentation for this work is flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello and bass. I really do believe that the Boulder Chamber Orchestra members identified with this work far more than they did the Stravinsky. It was so full of vivacity and spirit, that the contrast between the two composers was marked. Cobus du Toit, Max Soto, Adele Mayne, and Kent Hurd were truly exceptional. But, the whole ensemble was exceptional in this work. Yes, it is more lithe then the Stravinsky (whom Martinu admired), but there is no mistaking the fact that these musicians were more enthusiastic about this work than they were the Stravinsky. And while the Stravinsky is a difficult piece, it seemed to me that its difficulties were outshone by the Martinu. And it also seemed to me, that the musicians, for whatever reason, seem to relish the difficulty which was inherent in the Martinu.
The program stated that after the intermission, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra would perform Aaron Copland’s suite from the ballet Appalachian Spring. This was to be followed by the Rossini work, Seranata, which, if truth be told, is one of his lesser-known compositions. But I must point out a two items, one of which I found inexcusable, and the other, which I just found annoying. The program stated that Rossini’s dates were 1653 to 1713. In truth, Rossini was born February 29, 1792, and died November 13, 1868. Mistakes like this are evidence that the program was not properly proofread, which is a shame considering the stature of the Boulder Chamber Orchestra.
The item that I found annoying (and I stress that this is not the only organization to be guilty of last-minute changes) was the fact that, unannounced, the decision was made to begin the second half of this concert with the Rossini rather than the Copland which was stated in the program. I recognized the fact that the opening piece after the intermission was not Copland, but many in the audience did not, and I heard one audience member ask another who wrote the piece of music that was just performed. That audience member was assured that what he had just heard was Copland’s Appalachian Spring. In this day and age when serious music is suffering many slings and arrows, this kind of error is troublesome. While these two errors may seem like nothing, those of us who have been involved in serious music all of our lives need to guard against errors like these. After the Rossini was played, Maestro Saless came out on stage (the Rossini was played without a conductor) and explained that that had been the Rossini and not the Copland. But it is a shame that he did not make the announcement before the performance.
The Rossini nonet, which is from 1823, was written specifically for Vincenzo Bianchi for violins, viola, flute, oboe, English horn, and cello. It really is a delightful set of variations on an original theme, and as the program notes explain, each instrument is given its own solo in turn. It is a difficult piece, and again I was particularly struck by the excellent playing by Cobus du Toit, Kim Brody, Adele Mayne, and Aniel Cabán. This piece is certainly not performed enough, perhaps because it is not as weighty as other woodwind nonets. But it certainly is worth programming, and I was delighted to hear it.
The last work on the program hardly needs any introduction at all as it is one of the most famous pieces of American music written by one of the most famous American composers, Aaron Copland. As Maestro Saless explained before the performance, everyone the world over can identify this as a piece of American music, and I think it is because of the expansive themes, not to mention the inclusion of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts. Copland used his trademark harmonies which theorists have labeled white key diatonicism. To make a very long story short it involves the use of key signatures and enharmonic equivalence taken as points of departure for the expression of the diatonic-chromatic relationship. I apologize if that sounds circuitous, but without room for a lengthy explanation that’s about the best I can do. It results in very spare harmonies, and sometimes cadences that involve a leap, rather than step-wise motion, to resolve. It is what sets Aaron Copland’s music apart and makes it so recognizable. There was no question that everybody on stage was in love with this piece of music, and it was readily apparent on their faces as they performed. And of course, there is good reason for that because it is an outstanding piece of 20th century music literature. There were a few places where the orchestra wasn’t quite together, but there was a remarkable rhythmic flow to the entire piece especially the seventh and the eighth section of this piece, which Copland calls Calm and Flowing followed by the tempo indication of Moderate which identifies the coda.
This was a good performance, but there were some errors that were unusual for an ensemble of this ilk. I do hope that future programs will be more carefully proofread, and believe me, I do understand that errors like that can occur. But I also point out that similar errors are the most easily corrected. I am truly looking forward to their April 8 and April 9 concert, because they are going to perform the Dvorák Serenade for Strings which is one of his most beautiful pieces. I also am of the opinion that Dvorák, like Martinu, is a well-known, but highly underrated composer. If you are unfamiliar with this composition you must attend the April concerts.